In 1995, Columbia Pictures released Jumanji, starring Robin Williams. The movie was relatively popular, but I, for one, hated it. If you had told me then that in ten years I would actually like the semi-sequel, I would have thought you were insane. However, the fact is that Zathura, which exists “in the same world as Jumanji” is vastly superior to the original.
Zathura tells the story of Danny (Jonah Bobo) and Walter (Josh Hutcherson), two young brothers who discover the magical board game of Zathura in the basement while their father (Tim Robbins) is out. The game turns out to be real, and the house, the brothers and their sleeping teenage sister Lisa (Kristen Stewart) are transported to the middle of outer space to complete the adventure. Along the way, they must deal with reptile-like ravenous beasts called “Zorgons,” a witty, stranded astronaut (Dax Shepard) and a killer malfunctioning robot that looks like it was purchased from an auction of rejected props from Lost in Space.
The acting of the two children is impressive, especially considering their ages (Bobo is eight and Hutcherson is thirteen). As the sister Lisa, Stewart totally sheds the tomboyish persona that she showed in such films as Panic Room (finally proving that Jodie Foster’s daughter in that film is indeed female) and fits nicely into the role of the popular older sister.
As for the two adults in the movie, surprisingly strong Shepard of MTV’s Punk’d fame out-acts Oscar winner Robbins. Shepard adds a wry persona to the character of the astronaut, who seems too overly involved in the game. After Lisa asks him what he is doing in their house, Shepard nonchalantly responds, “I’m the character in the game we’re playing,” as if that was completely obvious. Shepard shows that if he chooses movies that aren’t titled Without a Paddle, he can actually be pretty funny. Robbins on the other hand, is along to pick up a paycheck. He appears in only a handful of scenes (including a baseball scene where he proves that in the intervening twenty years since Bull Durham, he still has not learned to throw a baseball correctly) and adds nothing to his character.
Director Jon Favreau shows that he is perhaps the top director of children’s movies. Favreau combines the right amount of action, comedy and drama to not overload the senses and has respect for children with attention spans of more than five seconds. Also, even though Favreau uses CGI effects to the film’s benefit, they don’t overwhelm the overall experience. Favreau uses traditional props and wires incredibly effectively, especially in the movements of the surprisingly life-like Zorgons. Also, Favreau should be applauded for keeping the action of Zathura confined to the unique setting of one house (although one woman behind me felt compelled to comment at least four times that it was a “huge house”).
The script, adapted from Chris van Allsburg’s book by John Kamps and veteran David Koepp is relatively solid. Kamps and Koepp succeed in not overloading the film with adult jokes, which is the problem with lesser movies such as Finding Nemo (so shoot me, I don’t like Finding Nemo). However, they still include some memorable lines for adults to enjoy such as, during a meteor shower, a large vase of ashes falls to the floor and one of the kids screams “Grandma!”
There’s probably no reason to see Zathura unless you are babysitting, a fan of the book or still don’t believe me that the kid from Panic Room is a girl. But if you do desire to see the film, you will not be disappointed. It is quality entertainment and will make you forget the two hours you might have lost by watching Jumanji.
Archived article by Michael Mix
Sun Staff Writer